Caribbean Medical Schools: What You Need to Know

Caribbean Medical Schools: What You Need to Know

  • Welcome to the Caribbean! One of the most popular vacation destinations in the world.
  • Welcome to medical school! One of the most rigorous experiences of your life.

These are two separate statements. When standing on their own, they’re both true. When they’re put together, though, does the Caribbean make medical school a vacation?

More importantly, what are your chances to become a successful practicing physician in the U.S. after attending a Caribbean medical school? What are the USMLE pass rates and residency match rates for Caribbean medical schools? And what are the best Caribbean medical schools? We’ll cover all that today.

Caribbean vs U.S. Medical Schools

There are about 60 Caribbean medical schools. One might think that this vastly increases your chance of being a doctor since there are only 137 MD and 26 DO medical schools in the U.S.

You must understand that these Caribbean medical schools are not all up to the standards of U.S. schools. There are some well-known Caribbean medical schools that have been graduating successful physicians for a long time, but others have dismal USMLE pass rates and residency match rates, as we’ll cover below.

Many Caribbean medical schools are for-profit entities that chase the dollar. They have a history of accepting students who might not be the best candidates to enter medical school. As a result, Caribbean medical schools have much higher attrition rates compared to U.S. medical schools.

If you’re self-disciplined and ready to work hard, you can earn great board scores at a Caribbean medical school and end up matching into a great residency program back in the U.S. But if you’re honestly not prepared for medical school, many Caribbean institutions will take your tuition money and let you fail out.

Best Caribbean Medical Schools

Here are the best, most well-known Caribbean medical schools you should consider above any others:

  1. Ross University School of Medicine
  2. St. George’s University School of Medicine
  3. American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine
  4. Saba University School of Medicine

All but Saba have been around since the late 1970s. Saba is relatively new to the game, having been established in 1994.

[Related episode: The Journey to a Caribbean Medical School.]

Requirements for Applying to Caribbean Medical Schools

The accredited Caribbean medical schools have the same basic requirements as U.S. MD and DO medical schools:

  • 8 Semester Hours (One Year)
    • Inorganic (General) Chemistry
    • General Biology or Zoology
    • Physics
    • Organic Chemistry
  • Varies
    • Mathematics
    • English

How to Evaluate Caribbean Medical Schools

When evaluating any medical school, you need to find the one that will best suit your needs so you can perform as well as possible on the USMLE Steps or COMLEX Levels exams.

I have found that the atmosphere can play a large roll in how much you submerse yourself into what you are studying. Have you ever sat in a cafeteria and tried to study? I have, and I mostly just people-watched. If you don’t think that you will be disciplined enough to stay away from the beaches while you are in the Caribbean, then maybe a medical school in the Caribbean is not for you.

Likewise, if the lure of the big city is too tempting because you will explore every bar on every corner, maybe a school in a small college town in the midwest might suit you better. In the end, the only variable you can control is yourself. Whatever your surroundings are, you need to be able to excel.

[Related episode: DO vs Caribbean Medical School: What Should I Do?]

Comparing USMLE Pass Rates at Caribbean Medical Schools

Your USMLE Step 1 score is one of the main determining factors in your residency application. Residency coordinators have a filter when they are accepting applications, and one of the first variables they filter by is your Step 1 score. Check out the following data on pass rates from the USMLE:

    • U.S. Allopathic Schools 1st Time Takers
      • 92%
    • U.S. Osteopathic Schools 1st Time Takers
      • 82%
    • Non-U.S./Canadian Schools 1st Time Takers
      • 70% (OUCH)

The data clearly shows that students at U.S. medical schools, both DO and MD, tend to do better on the USMLE Step 1 than Caribbean medical schools. But again, if you are a dedicated student who is ready to study hard, there is nothing stopping you from doing well at a Caribbean school.

Comparing Residency Match Rates at Caribbean Medical Schools

From the stats on pass rates of the USMLE Step 1 above, you can see that the Caribbean medical schools trail the pack significantly. This is also true for the NRMP residency match rates at these Caribbean medical schools.

According to the NRMP, the Match rate for U.S. Citizens who are graduates of international medical schools is only 50%. This compares to 94.1% for US graduates. Non-U.S. Citizens from international schools don’t fare well either, with a match rate of only 40.9%.

To help evaluate how well each school does in the Match, most of them will post their Match results. Saba University History of Success and Ross University Residency Appointments are just a few resources detailing how well the students do as far as residency match rates at these Caribbean medical schools.

Comparing Clinical Rotations

There are Caribbean medical schools that send their students to the states to complete their clerkships during the 3rd and 4th years of medical school. This may sound great, but when you start looking at numbers, it might actually be detrimental.

Caribbean medical schools are known for large class sizes with multiple semesters starting each year. Because of this, the clerkships tend to be a little overcrowded, with not a lot of quality personal time with attendings or residents.

You’ll want to confirm that the hospital you’re doing your rotation at has a residency program for the rotation you are completing. This will afford you the best experience and the best teaching.

If you’re interviewing at a Caribbean medical school, you need to be prepared to ask questions about clerkship opportunities and away-elective opportunities. Most schools will not mind if you do a little extra work on the side to set up a different elective to help position yourself better for the match.

Do You Need to Know Spanish for Caribbean Medical Schools?

The most well-known Caribbean medical schools listed above are English-speaking medical schools. That is not true for all Caribbean medical schools or other foreign medical schools. So you should be aware of this, and check the specific schools you’re considering applying to.

If you are fluent in a second language, this might not be detrimental to you. If you speak a foreign language on an elementary level and know enough to get into a non-English medical school, you may be far behind the curve of students who are fluent. You will be trying to learn medicine and another language at the same time.

More Quick Questions

What’s wrong with Caribbean med schools? Caribbean med schools have a bad reputation because they accept students who are unprepared for the rigors of medical school. As a result, they tend to have high attrition rates, poor USMLE pass rates, and poor residency match rates.

How hard is it to match into residency from a Caribbean medical school? According to the NRMP, the match rate for U.S. Citizens who are graduates of international medical schools is 50%. Non-U.S. Citizens from international schools have a match rate of 40.9%.

How long is Caribbean medical school? Caribbean medical schools are usually 4 years long, just like U.S. medical schools. Typically, the first two years cover the basic sciences in the classroom, while the last two years focus on clinical rotations.

Caribbean Medical Schools: A Last Resort

In the end, I recommend only going to a Caribbean medical school as a last resort. Try applying to MD and DO schools in the U.S. first. If you fail to get in, then take a year or two to fix the weakest parts of your application, and apply again to U.S. schools. Then if you still aren’t accepted in the U.S., then start looking at Caribbean medical schools.

If you do need to pursue an education at a Caribbean medical school, don’t despair. As long as you go in prepared and dedicated to work hard, you will do just fine. Here are a few success stories of residents and attending physicians I’ve interviewed who were successful Caribbean med school grads: one, two, three.

The one thing you can control throughout medical school is how much effort you put in every day. If you go to Harvard and slack off, your chances of getting into a top residency will be less than a Caribbean medical school graduate who studied hard and took advantage of every opportunity!

Links and Other Resources